This is per usual the continuation of the Year in Review series, where I take a set that was released one year ago and analyze its medium term impact in cube. There is a lot we can learn from the gap between initial impressions to real play experience. On the other hand, a year is not a long enough time for a consensus to truly form around all the cards and gems can still be discovered. I’ve already done colorless mana year in review, this will cover all the other cards.
Oath of Gideon – unplayable
This applies to the whole cycle besides the green card – There are not worth playing. The effects are sub par for the mana cost, getting multiple planeswalkers in a single deck is hard and the oaths want to be played before them.
Call the Gatewatch – unplayable
A cool effect, but too expensive, slow and narrow. Hard to find a deck that will want this. Planeswalkers are rarely that good in one specific task so they lack silver bullet value. Giving your opponent a notification a turn in advance about a nasty planeswalker you want to play reduces its chances of surviving drastically.
Wall of Resurgence – unplayable
Lots of stats for the mana but risky and in a way not asked for. If you want a wall, your deck will likely be royally screwed by turning your opponent’s spot removal spells into Stone Rain in most stages of the game. It is one of the worse cards to play with mass removals. Same reasons in reverse apply for decks interested in attacking.
Linvala, the Preserver – staple (at large sizes)
I value Linvala more than most people I know. She is simply easily the best white six drop for control decks. When you are behind, you cannot get much better than this. True, sometimes you have more life and face a single creature. Chances are you are winning anyway with your control deck. In situations where your opponent has a creature-less deck with planeswalkers or there is a massive stall she is still a 5/5 flier. That is what differentiates her from Thragtusk – she is a capable win condition. A 5/5 flier for 6 is not flashy, but gets the job done and requires removal. She is even good with Karakas and not terrible against it.
Her downside is narrowness. She is not something you want to ramp for or cheat into play. A third turn Linvala is a vanilla Linvala most likely. Decks that expect to be ahead in life and on board will never pack her, but they seldom play six drops. In terms of ranking, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is easily the best white 6 drop. After that I like the angel more than Sun Titan for 720 cubes. Titan is also not a card meant to be cheated. Titan is not a reliable win condition, lacking evasion. You have to craft very specific lists before Sun Titan can be claimed to pass the removal test better than Linvala. That said, Sun Titan is the better midrange card.
Crush of Tentacles – potential sleeper
I have read good feedback about the card, and cubetutor stats say the card is quite popular. Activating surge shouldn’t be too much of a problem with a cantrip (even better with a mox) and is generally the sort of effect you can wait until your seventh land to play as it should win you the game. There are a few reasons why I haven’t tried this myself yet. First, it is yet another blue card that will own midrange and be weak against aggro/other control decks. Blue has plenty of those. It gains major points for being effective against token decks though. Second, Baral’s Expertise treads on very similar grounds (so is Cyclonic Rift but that card is in a different league). Over the next year or so, I hope a winner between the two will emerge.
Void Shatter – unplayable
Oath of Jace – unplayable
Seems similar to Compulsive Research, yet worse in multiple ways. The card selection effect is worse. Even after adding the upkeep triggers, you need quite a few turns before claiming the effect is better. If blue was a color full of enchantment synergies and devotion this could see play. Currently being an enchantment is a drawback, as it doesn’t work with Thing in the Ice, baby Jace, Snapcaster Mage, delve etc. Search is not an impressive card in the first place, so this has little reason to be a part of cubes of any size.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet – staple
A godsend to control decks. A 3/4 lifelink body for four is exactly what you want most of the time – it survives most burn, kills all creature costing three or less and regains you tempo. Black is also a color notorious for inflicting itself damage so likes lifegain the most. Kalitas also is also a great card to play with mass removals. It is not profitable to attack into so it forces your opponent to extend. Once he or she does, wipe and gain your own army.
What I did not anticipate was how good the card is as a synergy piece, even in aggro decks. A recent B/R aggro deck played the Traitor. The pilot said he never got a single 2/2 black token, yet the card still did a lot. It will make trades in combat very unprofitable for your opponent, is a sacrifice outlet and can grow to impressive sizes with Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. Exiling creatures is also a randomly great hoser ability, especially against Recurring Nightmare.
Reaver Drone – fringe playable
Only large cubes will consider playing this. It the weakest of black one drops to even be considered for cube. One drops in aggro are crucial, so there are reasons to play it. If you have enough of them, Drone is a card that gets cut from maindecks. This sounds trivial but really is not. I am usually very happy to cut a three drop for another good one drop in my aggro decks. Drone is so bad in race situations or against fat blockers, that unless you have to play it, and feel bad about it, you will not be doing so. Other black one drops are not that far ahead, but all offer bonuses such as more toughness, less life loss and relevant creature types.
Goblin Dark Dwellers – solid playable
This card is better than I expected. It was evaluated near OGW release as “build your own Flametongue Kavu”. This is still what the card ends up doing most of the time, but the average case scenario is a bit higher than that. Of course Dwellers can theoretically whiff, but you are playing red hence burn. In a red deck very light with burn and no spells in the other color, this might not be playable but that never happened. The ceiling is ridiculous, with targets scaling all the way up to Time Walk and Ancestral Recall.
As an FTK, the body is a serious upgrade. Menace is underrated ability. Although people start evaluating it properly, a year ago it was very far from that. A 4/4 menace is a serious threat that will do a lot of damage and kill planeswalkers. As a 4/4 it is a better defensive tool, containing most attackers and surviving burn. FTK is still cheaper and splashable so it is hard to argue it is worse.
Dark Dwellers is a good midrange option for red. Thundermaw Hellkite and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are clearly better, with argument for Siege-Gang Commander as well. So it is 4th at best, and as red is not a midrange color, only very large cubes will want it. Hence, it is not of staple status, although it is a very solid card I do not expect replacing in the next few years.
Chandra, Flamecaller – solid playable
Chandra is a good control tool. She was used here primarily in Izzet, but she goes well in Superfriends decks or Oath of Druids. The mass removal ability protects her and she is a fast clock. Her discard ability is mostly used to dig for specific outs, she is too expensive to be used as a discard outlet or synergy piece. She is a rounded card that is good in most situations. She is not at the titans/Elspeth, Sun’s Champion level but she does the job in R/G ramp or URx control. As six haste power that is hard to remove or block, she is great. She goes very well with other mass removal clearing the way for her.
Quite often I see she needs to take down a 4 toughness creature and die, or she needs to cast an Anger of the Gods then dies immediately to something (manland/vehicle/burn/haste creature). She is still what you want against decks going wide when you are behind and great when ahead. A major downside of her is that in cubes supporting Wildfire there are already three red six drops you want more.
Oath of Nissa – staple
A filter card close in power to Ponder is always exciting, let alone in green. Fetch a land early, a threat late and whatever-you-need-at-this-moment in the middle. Theoretically there are green decks with plenty of artifacts, instants and sorceries where Oath is unplayable. That did not happen yet. You are playing green, creatures are the main reason to play the color. Even if there is an Oath of Druids deck, the green creatures in the draft will go somewhere and that player will pick Oath highly. Also, the Oath of Druids deck will likely pack enough planeswalkers to want Oath as well. I’d play Oath with 10 cards it cannot fetch.
The second ability should be a side perk at best, but amazingly it was relevant the first time the card was drafted. In a superfriends deck it has reasonable synergy with the first ability as you pick any planeswalker you want out of your top 3 cards and ignore the colors of your lands.
Sylvan Advocate – staple
Green got great cards in OGW. Advocate is very easy to turn on. We knew it was going to wreak aggro. We didn’t know how good it was going to be against slower decks as well – it is a 2 mana card that will turn into a serious threat at no further investment. Cheap enough to slip under counter magic and as a two drop you do not overly care if it eats spot removal. The land pump is a very relevant ability in practice, especially as the green manlands have no evasion and need the stats boost to overcome blockers. Also works well with Nissa, Worldwaker. There is an open debate whether Goyf is better than Advocate. I think in the average green deck Advocate is better (and goyf has a much higher ceiling).
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar – fringe playable
I’ve mistakenly reviewed her with BFZ. I blame her name for this innocent mistake.
Natural State – niche
In powered cubes there are many targets. However how much does costing one less than Naturalize is relevant compared to the lessened scope of targets? In most green decks the saving of one mana is not significant enough to play an answer this narrow.
Reflector Mage – staple
I think this is the best UW card. Whether you are a control or tempo deck, this fellow will always be a consideration for your deck. A 2/3 body is good for the mana, denying a creature for two turns can win games in aggressive decks or buy time to find answers in slow decks. A card powerful enough to be worth splashing for. Ripe for abuse with bounce/blink/reanimation but honestly doesn’t need that to be a staple.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim – low playable
Definitely a pushed card, but conflicted. The abilities are good but scattered all over the place. The 2/3 deathtouch body for 2 is similar to Gifted Aetherborn – durable enough to be problematic to aggro, deathtouch to be relevant against midrange. Her ability is a sacrifice outlet and some lifegain that black likes so much. However it requires you to have other creatures out and disposable ones. Sure, you can sacrifice your creatures in response to a spot or mass removal, but all you are doing is gaining life and that likely doesn’t advance your gameplan. Her final ability is great, but costs enough mana and requires enough creatures to not be an automatic win. It should be active less often than most planeswalker ultimates.
Overall she is a good card but some white and black two drops are quite clearly better than her. Far from all of them though and she is a card all WB aggro decks would see, as well as some midrange decks that will likely be Abzan. She not a card worth splashing for or building around. Orzhov is very competitive and depending on preference she can be the fifth or so best card.
Jori En, Ruin Diver – fringe playable
You do not need to draw many cards at all before this is worth the mana cost. A single card likely does the trick. U/R is a color combination heavy with cheap spells. If you can follow Jori up with a spell he immediately replaced itself. The problem is that Jori is not an easy fit in any deck and not worth building around. Drawing more than one card for Jori will require a heavy emphasis on spells. There are decks that want to play as many as they can, but even they will not be able to draw cards turn after turn. You could try to force it, but Jori is not worth it. As one of few creatures in a said deck it will be a removal magnet. You have to keep a healthy amount of spells in hand. Jori will also punish you for mana floods and to a lesser extent mana screws. In total it will be drawing less than one card on average, not enough for a gold card.
Stormchaser Mage – playable
The best body with prowess for cube. It has a passable body that is relevant even as a topdeck. The problem is that not every Izzet deck will want the purely aggressive body and fewer still will have the critical amount of spells to make it great. If Izzet is much more tempo than control in your cube Mage is a worthy addition.
Gruul is renowned for a very deep shelf of 4 drops – Xenagos, Sarkhan, Huntmaster, Arlinn Kord and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Mina and Denn have a very unimpressive body, a rarely relevant ability and as many alternatives as you could possibly want.
Lands and Colorless
Hissing Quagmire – playable
The whole cycle of manlands is good. The opportunity cost of adding a threat to your deck is low, and the fixing is always welcome. Quagmire is the second worse land in the cycle. A 2/2 body is just not very relevant in the late game offensively, even if it has deathtouch. It is rare it will accomplish much. The card is best seen as having three modes, when the primary mode is fixing. The second mode is as bad removal for an attacking creature on the ground. It is rare that sacrificing a land for a removal they basically see in advance is going to be great, but it can deter attacks, trade with an attacking titan and is still something to do when flooded. The final mode is as an attacking Mutavault. Deathtouch is much worse on the offense.
Needle Spires – staple
Boros is the most aggressive color combination and therefore the guild that least wants to play lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Needle Spires is a rare exception. Aggro decks want fixing, and want ways to recover from mass removals. Needle Spires attacks for four, perhaps more than every other creature you have. The presence of this land on the field makes life tough for your opponent. You can keep attacking without committing more to the board. End of turn burn to clear the way + Needle Spires attack will kill most planeswalkers. Spires also scales well with anthem effects and Elspeth, Knight Errant. Sometimes an aggro deck can be stopped with a 3/3 or 4/4; spires can attack and trade with that and clear the way for the rest of the team.
Wandering Fumarole – staple
Fumarole attacks for four, a sure recipe for a successful manland. Fumarole is more useful than most manlands on the defense too, not just due to high toughness but also because the color combination has a lot of instants to use the mana in case the threat of activation prevented an attack. On the offense it also largely requires a 2/2 to block Fumarole indefinitely, but that helps the rest of your team come through.
Captain’s Claws – unplayable
This is simply low impact. You need several hits before you return the investment with this card, and still a 2/3 will stop the tokens even if they are equipped. Another threat or burn spell is better.